AN Oxfordshire health trust is 'gambling with patient care' after bosses revealed plans to cancel agency worker contracts in the middle of what has been called 'a recruitment crisis'.

A trade union representing nurses at Oxford Health Trust (OHT) has raised the concerns saying the move to terminate the contracts of all agency Health Care Assistants (HCAs) would leave wards run by the trust severely short staffed.

OHT, which provides physical, mental health and social care across the county, has said it aims to fill the roles using employees from its own internal staffing bank, Staffing Solutions.

However spokesman for Oxfordshire UNISON Health branch, Ian Mckendrick, said: “The trust is gambling here - it’s a huge gamble. Our representatives have already raised concerns that they are so dependent on agency workers because there’s such a chronic shortage of qualified staff.

“If they cut off the agency supply what is the plan then if they can't recruit enough bank staff?"

In 2016, the trust spent £18m across all agency workers, of which £3.6m represented 'agency premium'.

Mr Mckendrick said he understood why NHS trusts would look to use workers from their own staffing bank, however, he said it would only work if each and every health trust cancelled agency contracts.

He added: “The trust is hoping the people who work for agencies will take up roles with Staffing Solutions on much lower wages.

"But I know people, who come from places like North Hampshire, they will just go to other Trusts and get the wage that they want."

The union's concerns were heightened when the trust announced internally contract cancellations would be delayed a month while the Care Quality Commission carry out random inspections in April.

Mr Mckendrick said: "They're almost saying they know they're going to be short-staffed.

"If it fails they don’t want the CQC to see it - they’re trying to hide it. If they cut numbers it will impact on care."

Trust spokeswoman Victoria Taylor said OHT was working to improve recruitment and retention.

She added: "Since September we have significantly increased the number of people signed up to our internal flexible staffing agency Staffing Solutions.

"From May, healthcare assistant vacancies will be fulfilled by colleagues from Staffing Solutions who are familiar with our procedures and have access to our vocational training and career development opportunities enabling them to provide high quality care to patients and service users."